Mirrors for the Community
By: Evan Upchurch
Enclosed inside a geodesic dome made of sticks woven carefully and thoughtfully, it was reminiscent of a bird’s nest, with bitter melon vines and dry leaves that hung from the structure. The other ten spectators from all walks of life sat in conversation and laughter as the evening slowly fell into night. Then, actors Dillon and Mehry entered and announced their play, an adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. A labor of love, they called it. From the look in their eyes, I knew I was about to experience art in its truest form – the kind that speaks from and to the intimate truths we all share. Welcome to Teatro Pescadero.
There is a special energy that resides in Todos Santos. It attracts artists, musicians, explorers, and healers for weeks or decades at a time, inspiring them to create and live in authenticity. In getting to know our newest community, we have encountered immensely talented people who seek to share and nurture their gifts. When we heard that two Broadway performers were creating ‘theater-of-the-intimate,’ we knew we had to learn more.
The story of Dillon Porter and Mehry Eslaminia is one of spontaneity, partnership, and creativity. At the beginning of 2020, the couple met on Dillon’s last night in New York before going to Baja – a place he has known and loved since childhood. They kept in touch by phone, and not even a week later, the unexpected became reality: the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was then that the actors’ started discussing their mutual love for Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and how the timeless work of art could be transformed into a play. Dillon says, “We began to imagine a world where, in a pandemic, performance was still possible.”
The dream took off from there. Dillon asked Mehry to come to Baja and told her they could put on the performance there. Mehry recounts, “He said that he’d build us a space for it on his property, which I think is the most incredible thing anyone has ever told me.” Soon enough, Mehry had a one-way ticket to Mexico.
Dillon and Mehry’s adaptation of The Prophet was a hit, but they didn’t stop there. Their initial creative collaboration organically transformed into a conscious partnership with infinite possibilities. Since creating Teatro Pescadero in September 2020, they have produced Trippin’ Whitman, Speedo Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, and Dillon on Dylan.
No production, however, has had a greater effect on the community than Todos Santos Newsfeed: The Musical™. Through this lighthearted parody, they were able to connect with community groups such as Grupo Madre Teresa, filling pantries for the food insecure and collecting hygiene items for children from audience members in lieu of admission price. “We’ll perform and sing the songs, but you, as the patrons, can donate money or bring supplies. Not everyone participates in the same way, but we’ve created a space that allows people to do what they can,” Dillon says.
Due to the strong foreign presence in the area, Teatro Pescadero’s English-language plays are well received. While they hope to create more bilingual works of art in the future, they want to use the theater as a space for honest conversations about the realities of their community. Dillon points out, “Expats carry cultural baggage, which then meets the cultural baggage of the country they’re in. In that collision, there will be moments of great comedy and a chance for empathy. Art can point out divisions and find a way to bring people together. In a small community, you can talk about these things, and it ripples faster since the sea of people is less dense. Art, music, and poetry can reach across cultural divides.”
The power of theater in a small community is just that, community. For many people, Teatro Pescadero is a space to come together with open hearts and experience theater performed from a place of love. Mehry recognizes how her own vision of acting has evolved with this new venture. She says, “A few years ago, I realized how much of a self-serving career acting was. I kept thinking that there had to be something more. Instead of ‘look at me,’ I wanted it to be more ‘look at us.’ How do we become mirrors for the community? And with Teatro Pescadero, I’ve found that.”
In the spring of 2022, Mehry will return to New York to begin rehearsals for her upcoming Broadway play, 1776, while Dillon’s plans are open to the flow of life. Until then, several new plays are in the works, and performances can be scheduled on-demand to all who express interest. Teatro Pescadero is capable of growing and transforming in countless different ways, just like the community in which they reside.
An English teacher recommended The Prophet to a 14-year-old me and said, “It’s the only book you’ll ever need about life.” That Sunday night at Teatro Pescadero, in a dome made of sticks, I witnessed words that have been space holders in my heart become poetry in motion. Dillon and Mehry show that art can heal, inspire, and bridge communities, but most of all, they remind us that “work is love made visible,” as Kahlil Gibran once said.
Photography by: Peter Grisby